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Out of Gas
by Shmuel Hendel

Fifteen years ago, my friend Dovi Scheiner and I were in Hawaii on “Merkos Shlichus” – a project of Chabad that sends student rabbis to remote locations on the globe, to visit isolated Jews who live far from a synagogue or any organized Jewish life. We started with a list of names, and when we were through with those we looked up Jewish-sounding names in the phone book.

Each day we visited a few homes, talked with the people living there and spoke about holidays and other Jewish topics. People were excited to meet young people from Israel. We presented ourselves as rabbinical students doing a research project on the state of Jewish life in the Diaspora.

On one hot and hazy day, we didn’t manage to get into a single house. In some instances, we discovered that the people were not Jewish. In other places the people were not home or the address we had was incorrect. We were about to call it a day, feeling rather disappointed. When we got to the last address on the list and nobody was there, we planned on going back to the hotel. As soon as we set out I saw that we were seriously low on gas. I pointed this out, but my friend didn’t seem concerned. He figured that even if the needle was flickering on empty we could still drive a few more kilometers and we would definitely make it back to the hotel.

Well, on a fairly quiet highway, with orchards on either side, the car began sounding like it was choking, and it slowly came to a stop. The cars behind us began honking and we quickly moved the car to the side of the road. We were exhausted and low in spirits. We hadn’t met a single Jew that day and now we were stuck. Who would come help us?

We tried stopping cars, but nobody volunteered to stop and help. We looked odd to the locals with our hats and jackets in the heat. A long time passed and then we saw a motorcycle coming out of a path in the orchard and heading toward us. A motorcycle is easier to stop because you can look the driver in the eye. Maybe his conscience would encourage him to stop and help us.

He stopped, parked his motorcycle and came over to us. At first we were nervous, because he was a big guy and full of tattoos with rings in every possible place. He wore sunglasses so his eyes were blocked from us, which was unnerving.

“We are stuck without gas,” said my friend.

“How do smart guys like you do something so stupid?” he asked jokingly.

We knew he was right and didn’t respond, and then he said a line that made our antennas go up.

“I thought members of the tribe were smarter than that.” That told us he was Jewish. We asked his name.

“Bill Aronson,” he said.

“You live at … right?” we said, citing an address on our list.

“Right!” he said in astonishment. “How did you know that?”

“We were there a quarter of an hour ago and you weren’t home,” we said.

The conversation took off and then he told us that although he lived nearby, he had never been in that orchard before. He said he worked in real estate and a friend told him about a building in that area. That morning, after much deliberation, he had decided to check it out. He told us that his wife was not Jewish. She was a Buddhist and he didn’t think that if he was home that she would have invited us in.

My friend went off with him to get gas. He had been on his way to pick up his children from the preschool. On the way, he had met his wife and she agreed to pick them up instead. So he came back with a jerry can of gas and we had time to talk. He said that the only one in his family connected to Judaism was his mother. So when he visited a monastery the year before, he had himself videotaped shouting “Shema Yisroel” and sent it to his mother to make her happy.

We asked him if he had ever put on tefillin. He had no idea what we were talking about. When we asked him to put on tefillin before sunset, he wasn’t willing to do it until we spoke some more about the significance of his being Jewish. Then he rolled up his sleeve. This was all new to him. He was very moved and cried. We spent a long time standing there and talking. Suddenly, all our feelings of having wasted the entire day disappeared and were replaced with great satisfaction over having reached another Jew. If that man had been at home, we might not have been successful. If our gas tank had been full, we wouldn’t have met him. If he hadn’t decided that day to check out the property, we would not have met. Hashem had arranged it all and it took place just as it was meant to be.


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